The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference

The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference

The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference

The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference

Synopsis

What do Americans think "race" means? What determines one's race--appearance, ancestry, genes, or culture? How do education, government, and business influence our views on race? To unravel these complex questions, Ann Morning takes a close look at how scientists are influencing ideas about race through teaching and textbooks. Drawing from in-depth interviews with biologists, anthropologists, and undergraduates, Morning explores different conceptions of race--finding for example, that while many sociologists now assume that race is a social invention or "construct," anthropologists and biologists are far from such a consensus. She discusses powerful new genetic accounts of race, and considers how corporations and the government use scientific research--for example, in designing DNA ancestry tests or census questionnaires--in ways that often reinforce the idea that race is biologically determined. Widening the debate about race beyond the pages of scholarly journals, The Nature of Race dissects competing definitions in straightforward language to reveal the logic and assumptions underpinning today's claims about human difference.

Excerpt

Even before my first child was born, her race—and mine—seemed to matter. Most of the pamphlets my doctor gave me about potential birth defects made reference to groups such as ‘African Americans” and “Caucasians,” or they mentioned “ethnicity.” A brochure from a company called Genzyme Genetics, for example, calculated a mother’s risk of being a carrier of cystic fibrosis according to whether she was Northern European, Southern European, Ashkenazi Jewish, Hispanic, African American, or Asian American. When I was twelve weeks pregnant, my doctor ordered a blood test that would indicate how likely the baby was to have certain chromosomal disorders such as Down syndrome. Before drawing my blood, a nurse asked me to state my race. Usually I describe myself as African American, but on that day, piqued by curiosity about what race had to do with my unborn child’s health, I gave the full version . . .

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